Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Two Audio Interviews: Rethinking the Constitution and The New PhD

I thought readers would enjoy the following two interviews.

The first is with Mary Anne Franks: The Cult of the Constitution. The discussion is titled: Rethinking the Constitution. She gets into the first and second amendment. What I found thoughtful was her presentation of the Constitution being viewed as a sacred document. Think the Bible etc. Considering the influence of the Evangelical Right in the Republican party, it put clarity to the Right’s arguments involving the Constitution. This discussion coincides with Peter Dorman’s post: We need a Plan for Militias.

The second interview I heard a bit ago: The New PhD, How to Build a Better Graduate Program. Leonard Cassuto and Robert Weisbuch. What they suggest is that the Graduate programs have to change from their conservative (not political conservative) historical approach to this aspect of the education and make it more relevant to what is present for such students in today’s world.

Both interviews are about 1 hour long. Enjoy.

Normalizing Foreign Trade Relations

 The Biden admin has not yet made moves to undo elements of Trump’s trade war, and some parts of it may not get undone, perhaps especially some directed at China.  But at least one move towards normalization with the rest of the world has just happened as the Biden admin has agreed to let the individual nominated to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) take office. This is Ngosi Okunjo-Iweala, not only a woman, but a former Finance Minister from Nigeria.  She had previously been blocked by the Trump admin, with Trade rep Robert Lighthizer claiming she had “no experience in trade relatrions at all.” The Trumpers supported a former South Korean trade minister who negotiated a trade agreement with the US in 2018, but others did not do so.  The Trump admin had also blocked appointments of new judges to adjudicate trade disputes at the WTO, a more general move to essentially declare the WTO to be useless and no good in pursuit of an “America First” policy.

Fucking With The Football

That would be the nuclear football, the one that a President of the United States can use to destroy all human life on the planet with by pushing some buttons.  It turns out there is a second one, a backup, one that is kept near the backup President. That would be the Vice President.

So CNN has put out a report that Tyler Cowen has picked up on and put as one of his daily news stories on Marginal Revolution, although barely commented on and not getting much attention on most media. The story in fact sort of does not quite play up how serious it is.  It focused on how people at DOD did not know how serious the situation was, without in fact playing up how serious it was.

The problem is that while there has been a lot of attention paid to how former President Trump continued to tweet negatively about his own VP, Mike Pence, even after hearing that Pence had been evacuated from the Senate chambers with a mob having entered the Capitol.  Trump’s concern was how Pence had let him down by not engaging in an unconstitutional act to try not to recognize the certified state electoral college vote results. This tweet was read to the crowd outside, and the mob chanted over and over “Hang Mike Pence!”  We have now all seen this.

But probably the most dangerous part of this whole episode, I mean even probably worse than that Trump might have overturned the election and turned the US into a lifetime dictatorship run by him, is that when the mob was within 100 feet of Pence, the backup nuclear football was with him, carried by a Secret Service agent.

Now, if the mob had been a bit faster and caught Pence, certainly that Secret Service agent would have resisted vigorously, probably to the extent of giving up his life. But if the mob had succeeded in obtaining that nuclear football, well, maybe there are limits on the ability of a random person getting that object that keep them from destroying all human life on this planet.  But even short of that, there is no doubt that one of these people could have brought about very serious trouble.  This story needs more reporting, not how mean Trump was not to stand up for his VP who was following the law to certify the electoral college votes that would bring about the end of Trujmp’s presidency.

Barkley Rosser

We Need a Plan for Militias

We Need a Plan for Militias

 A social trend can lie dormant for years, gradually expand and then suddenly explode as if following a hidden exponential growth curve.  Revolutions work this way, and so do religious cults.  Most of the time the curve is nipped in its early phase, but not always.  It isn’t a good idea to assume a fringe movement will always remain fringe.

This brings us to the topic of right-wing militias, people who carry assault rifles, study military tactics, go target-shooting in the woods and live in an end-times epistemological bubble.  They’ve been around for decades, occasionally getting in the news, and gradually getting more numerous and influential.  Read this recent report in the New York Times, which documents the mainstreaming of armed freelancers aligned with the Michigan Republican Party, and ask yourself whether we are approaching an inflection point.

It’s by Design: Texas’ Electrical Mess

Something is funky with our comment function. They are showing up at the WP site, just not showing here today. Though, sometimes you might see them, then not. So, leave a comment. We’ll get it happening.

By now, you are aware that the problem Texas is having is because they failed to build their system to withstand cold/winter weather. That is the mechanical reason for their problem. Of course, this leads many to assume that as soon as it warms up, the power will be back on and life is good again.

Unfortunately, that does not account for all the water damage that has happened and will happen as broken plumbing thaws. It won’t just be people’s homes. I’m confident there will be news about failures within the municipal systems and of course, failures with the plumbing in the power plants including those that pump the natural gas and cool the nuclear generators. Rebuilding will take months or more.

However, the issue of failure to build the system for the environment is not the real tragedy here. The true horror is the economic model sold to the citizens. Free Market. Yup, that all powerful, God like, invisible hand. Oh…and FREEDOM! Because when you read ex-governor Perry’s statement about Texans being willing to suck it up for 3 more days, you can only assume this system was built for the great Texas secession. Sacrifice for your FREEDOM! Endure that cold! Any day now, it’s going to happen.

It seems that in truth, the electric system is functioning exactly as it was designed to function. High demand. Low supply. High prices to discourage demand. What’s your problem?

I give you: William W. Hogan. Harvard professor of global energy policy at the Kennedy School. “…the architect of the strategy that was adopted by the state seven years ago.”

“…acknowledged that while many Texans have struggled this week without heat and electricity, the state’s energy market has functioned as it was designed.

That design relies on basic economics: When electricity demand increases, so too does the price for power. The higher prices force consumers to reduce energy use to prevent cascading failures of power plants that could leave the entire state in the dark, while encouraging power plants to generate more electricity.

It’s not convenient,” Professor Hogan said. “It’s not nice. It’s necessary.”

The Explanation for the 2020 Mail Delay? Louis DeJoy

Steve Hutkins at Save The Post Office, The 2020 Mail Delays: Stats & Charts

Preface

The inventor of MRPII, Oliver Wight, coined a term for management deliberately obstructing the implementation of MRPII calling them “Cement Heads.” In Louis DeJoy’s case, rather than work with today’s postal system; DeJoy is deliberately sabotaging it with his changes. The end result will lead to its demise and subsequent takeover by private enterprise.

Having been on the manufacturing side for decades, I found understanding a present process is necessary in order to implement changes to improve operations. DeJoy has no intention of understanding anything and he uses change to promote the destruction of the USPS. He is trump’s paid assassin.

The following charts, graphs, and commentary by Steve Hutkins defines problems in USPS functionality as measured by data. The data points in a direction needing to be further analyzed to determine whether the direction chosen by DeJoy is leading to the destruction of the USPS. I believe it does.


Annual Compliance Review – Steve Hutkins

The Postal Regulatory Commission’s annual compliance review ordinarily focuses on postal rates, but this year, due to widespread reports of mail delays over the past several months, the Commission has been scrutinizing on-time service performance. Over the past few weeks, the Commission and its newly appointed Chairman have filed a number of information requests seeking data from the Postal Service about the scope and causes of delays.

According to the service performance data provided by the Postal Service, the delays began at a modest level in March 2020 when the pandemic started, deepened noticeably in July when the Postal Service implemented cost-cutting operational changes, improved modestly in the fall, and then got much worse in December with the holiday mail crush.

As for the causes of the delays, the Postal Service has blamed COVID — the surge in packages, employee availability problems, more dependence on surface transportation because of a lack of available space on aircraft, and so on. It has also cited bad weather, the need to prioritize election mail and other factors. The Postmaster General has acknowledged that operational changes made in July caused delays, but the Postal Service says the system adjusted to these changes in a matter of weeks and they were not a factor in the delays that followed.

Democrats Misunderstand the QAnon Phenomenon

The Democratic Party Has a Fatal Misunderstanding of the QAnon Phenomenon, Osita Nwanevu, staff writer, The New Republic.

We are smarter than they are or at least better educated or are we?

Commenter Dale Coberly: I am offering this post to AB because I have seen a great deal of “us smart, them dumb” in comments.  I might agree with part of that,  but it’s bad politics and dangerous self-deception.  Rather than just post a “read this” with link in comments,  I thought AB readers deserved a longer look at it, and the author is a better writer than I am.

Their belief that this surreal conspiracy has arisen  because of the poor education of its adherents is based in classism, not reality.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee intends to focus on QAnon in its messaging, ahead of the 2022 midterms, in the hopes that [this] will push more people away from the GOP. DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney:

“They can do QAnon, or they can do college-educated voters. They cannot do both.”

Welcome to the Vaccination Hunger Games

Welcome to the vaccination Hunger Games

That, dear reader, is a slight variation on what my sibling unit said to me when I related the saga of my attempts to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination.

As I have mentioned from time to time, I am an Old Fossil. And, well, the supply shortage of the COVID vaccines has set off a fierce (if anything involving Old Fossils can qualify as “fierce”) competition for very limited appointment slots.

What your helpful neighborhood MegaPharmacy has chosen to do is to open up their website for vaccination appointments pretty much in the middle of the night. If you haven’t made your appointment for a date in the next week by the time of your first morning coffee, you are shut out.

So yesterday I intrepidly opened the vaccination portal immediately after getting up in the morning, only to find that the three nearest sites to me were already booked up. So I tried to book at the fourth, about 45 minutes away, and lo and behold, there were slots available today!

Impeachment: What’s the Message?

Impeachment: What’s the Message?

The mantra of the moment is that impeachment is not a trial and shouldn’t be governed by the same rules that apply to a court of law.  True, but that means it’s really a political event, where the verdict matters less than the message.

What’s coming through the media reporting is “Trump incited a riot.”  Well, he did, more or less, but that just means he’s a bad person.  It’s not news that Trump is a pretty nasty role model, and I fear the reaction of many people will be that the campaign to impeach him for it is just more of the same.

I would have preferred a different message: America needs to protect its democracy from the refusal of political leaders to accept defeat.  Around the world we see many countries where elections settle nothing.  Defeated parties routinely claim the election was rigged and only they have the right to hold power.  Street violence accompanies voting.  Military coups occur regularly to impose temporary stability.  The reason we should impeach Trump is to draw a line against this development in the US.

Let’s take a big, second bite at the mass testing apple

We made many mistakes in our response to the coronavirus over the past year.  One of the most critical was our failure to massively expand our capacity to produce coronavirus tests and masks and other PPE.  As many economists including Paul Romer noted last spring, mass testing and wide distribution of high quality masks would probably have allowed us to crush the virus and return to something close to normal life even in the absence of a vaccine.  Given that it was far from clear when or even if an effective vaccine would arrive, a large investment in mass testing and PPE production seemed like a no-brainer, but we didn’t do it.  This was one of the most serious and easily avoidable errors in our covid response. 

But what about now?  President Biden asked for $50 billion in his American Recovery Act to expand rapid testing, to help schools reopen.  This investment is critical, although the rationale is much too limited.  There is a real chance that the coronavirus will evolve in a way that lets it escape the current vaccines.  I don’t know how likely this is.  But even a small risk of viral escape would justify a large investment in testing and PPE production to let us keep a new variant of the virus under control while new vaccines are developed. 

Congressional Democrats should make this a high priority in the covid package they are working on.  A major investment in vaccine development and creation of accelerated vaccine testing procedures is also critical.  A protracted outbreak of a new covid strain will be a disaster for the country – a health disaster first, then an economic disaster, and finally a political disaster when Democrats get blamed for the never-ending hardships.

(I looked for information on the status of the legislation but didn’t find anything on point.  Anyone know of something?)